In the last few months, due to the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic, the use of hand sanitisers has greatly increased in homes, shops and other places. Many places have a hand sanitiser bottle placed at the entrance and people are told to use the sanitiser before entering the premises. However, there are still some Covid-19 cases, despite taking all precautions. So some people would like to find out does hand sanitiser actually work, is it really effective in killing all the bacteria and viruses or is some other method more effective in destroying the harmful virus, bacteria and other microbes.
Usually hand sanitizer is considered a quick and effective way of cleaning the hands, in places where there is no water and soap available for washing hands. The sanitizer will typically contain an alcohol like ethyl alcohol (ethanol), isopropyl alcohol or propanol. Alternately the sanitizer will contain anti bacterial compounds like triclosan. The sanitizer will usually contain 60% or more alcohol so that they will destroy the bacteria, viruses and other harmful microbes. Since the sanitizer will dry the hands, after it is applied, usually glycerin or similar substance are added to keep the hands moisturized.
Typically all the sanitizers kill the viruses, bacteria and other microbes by attacking the cell membrane of these microbes. The cell membrane is attacked and destroyed by the alcohol in the sanitizer, since they dissolve in the alcohol. After this the proteins in the microbes are exposed, which will usually result in their death. Additionally the alcohol is also attacking the exposed proteins in the microbes like bacteria to break them down further. This will effectively kill the microbe, and it will not be able to cause any harm. However, the sanitizer will only be effective, if the user does not wipe the hand on other surfaces after using it.
Usually, if the concentration of the alcohol in the sanitizer is above 60%, it should be effective in killing almost all bacteria. Yet there are some viruses like norovirus which may not be destroyed using the sanitizer. The sanitizer is not very effective in killing harmful microbes on hands which are visibly dirty or greasy. In this case, the bacteria are hiding in the dirt, and will not be killed by the hand sanitizer, so washing the hands with soap and water is recommended. There are many viruses, bacteria in hospitals, so anyone visiting a hospital should wash their hands with a sanitizer after their visit. So though washing with soap and water, is the most effective way, a quality hand sanitizer can help in killing harmful microbes to some extent.